Expanding rbutr to a website plugin…

Since the very beginning of rbutr there has been the obvious idea of creating a plugin for websites. A wordpress plugin, or some sort of generic bit of code that website owners could put on their website to integrate rbutr in to their website in some way….

But how would it look? What function would it actually provide? Why would people want it on their site…?

The answers to these questions weren’t always clear, but when the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science told us that they could see the value in using rbutr data on their website…we listened.

Well, actually, we wanted to listen and do what they wanted… but this all actually happened over a year ago and at that time we still have a lot of the basics to still get right! We didn’t have the time to divert from that, and we couldn’t very well start working on website plugins when the core browser plugin still lacked a lot of basic functionality….

However, since that first meeting mid 2012 we have made a lot of progress, and at TAM2013 this year we had a chance to talk with the RDFRS team a lot more and set out some ideas. We now have a very basic ‘minimal viable product’ version of a website plugin. It is the first version of many to come, and it is going to be available for every website owner who wants it. Actually, a few more people participating in this testing process could be useful, so if you want to participate, contact me (shane at rbutr) and let me know. It is quite simple to implement.

First Version

So here is the first version in action. We have put a few scripts on to the page which make it work, and then applied Class=”RbutrContent” to the selected areas in which we want the plugin to operate. In this case, we have applied it simply to the content of all blog posts (so it won’t affect the menus, or post headings or page footer region etc).

So all of this content is included. Now, whenever we link to a page, the plugin will check that URL to see if it is in our database. If it is, you will see a small rbutr logo next to that link which links to the best representation of that page in our system.

For example, the top link on our Browse page at the time of writing this article was a rebuttal of The Fluoride Action Network. You will notice that that link has a rbutr logo next to it – this is because it is a URL which is in our database. Hover over the logo and the tooltip will tell you some information about the link, while clicking on it will take you to the relevant link page in rbutr.com.

The page which rebuts it, http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/antifluoridation-bad-science/ also gets a rbutr logo next to it because the current system will indicate all links in the system whether they are rebutted, or rebutting. Future versions will allow the website owner to control whether both trigger the logo, or just rebutted pages, or just rebutting pages if wanted for some reason.

Better still, I expect we will be able to make it so that we can bring about a number of different actions depending on whether a page is rebutted, rebutting, or both, and choose how to handle each situation.

Hopefully we will be able to develop an iFrame version of rbutr soon, and people will be able to click through to the original content within a rbutr framed environment, regardless of whether they have the plugin installed or not. This is my ideal implementation of this idea, though we are still exploring how this might be implemented. More to come soon…

Who Would Want This and Why?

This was a big concern to me originally, because in reality most website owners have zero desire to share the flaws of the pages they link to. It is only exceptional cases like the Richard Dawkins Foundation, and Skeptic Magazine and the James Randi Educational Foundation who have both also indicated their interest in this software, who are so dedicated to the ideals of scientific skepticism and philosophical rationalism that they see the value of opening up their content and ideas to criticism as a value addition – not a threat. They understand the Carl Sagan slash John Stuart Mill quote which has been at the heart of this project since the beginning:

John Stuart Mill argued that silencing an opinion is “a peculiar evil.” If the opinion is right, we are robbed of the “opportunity of exchanging error for truth”; and if it’s wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in its “collision with error.” If we know only our own side of the argument, we hardly know even that: it becomes stale, soon learned by rote, untested, a pallid and lifeless truth.

But as I said, the organisations, people and websites who fall in to this category are quite small. If it wasn’t for the fact that we have the support of such large organisations from the beginning of this project, I doubt we would have invested the time in to getting it this far. The prospects of anyone wanting this plugin for their website just seemed to small to be worth the development….

But then a friend from the past contacted me. The owner of the first ever forum I ever participated in on the internet, Physics Forums, said he was interested in how rbutr might be used on his forum….

Now that makes sense!

Forums are an ideal medium for highlighting when links within posts have been rebutted. This is useful information to forum users for whenever someone references an article which sounds compelling, but has in fact been well debunked elsewhere on the web. rbutr would cut the work out for the other forum members by simply alerting everyone to the rebuttals.

So now I think we have a reasonable marketplace for a website integration! Forum owners!

I only make this point because for some reason forums were a blindspot for me when considering website implementation of rbutr, but seem really obvious now. The simple version we have in place now can actually be easily implemented in forums if desired, but like all of this, we need to continue to improve what we have.

Where We Are At Now

For the moment, we are still working with RDFRS to integrate this simple version of the rbutr website plugin with their articles. We have also just had a meeting with RealityDrop to organise some simple rbutr integration with their system – something which we hope to expand upon over time as well. This is going to be a little different to the script we have shown here, and which we are using with RDFRS.

The forum-plugin idea will continue to develop when we can; probably some time after we get things moving with RDFRS and RealityDrop, though as I said, technically our current ‘one-size-fits-all’ script can be made to work quite easily in a forum.

Picking Sides and Picking Websites

I am sure a lot of people are going to see rbutr on RDFRS and Reality Drop and decide that rbutr is for Atheists and “Climate Alarmists”. Of course, our position and ardent belief is that rbutr is a neutral tool to be used by everyone of every opinion and perspective. Why are we integrating with these websites, and not with AnswersInGenesis and WattsUpWithThat? Well, mostly, because they haven’t responded to my approaches, or I haven’t figured out how to get in contact with them in a way which would result in cooperation. I would just as happily work with either of those websites, or any other website of any political or scientific or religious world view in order to help rbutr reach a larger audience of people concerned about ensuring genuine discourse is accessible over the internet.

As it is though, these organisations are working with us to develop useful tools for their websites which add internet-wide context to their articles and their systems, among other features. And we are very glad to be working with them.

If you have a website and you would like to use rbutr in some way on your website, please contact us. You can reach me with the usual shane at rbutr email address, and we can talk about what options are available at this point in time. In these early stages, things are moving slow and we have a lot of bugs to sort out and improvements to make. But as we progress through them all we will eventually release some simple code anyone will be able to use at any time on their website. Hopefully we will even be able to eventually develop wordpress plugin software, and forum plugin software for popular forums.

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